Video of UC Davis police restraining woman outside of bookstore prompts public outcry, investigation
An investigation is currently underway into the use of force by UC Davis police officers against a woman allegedly caught shoplifting in the UC Davis Bookstore on May 6.
A video spread online through Twitter and the Wildfire app shows police officers pinning the suspect on the ground both inside and outside of the store. The woman can be heard screaming that she can’t breathe and was carried away in a garment that restrained her movement.
Shortly after the incident and the spread of the video, the ASUCD Executive Office made a statement via Facebook, calling the use of force by police “an institutional tactical issue.”
“The police are not attempting to calm her down in the video,” the statement said. “Police should be utilizing de-escalation tactics and intervention with mental health specialists and counselors, instead of brute force to pin someone, a [Chicanx/Latinx] woman of colour, down against her will after explicitly expressing she had PTSD.”
UC Davis Police Chief Joseph Farrow said the department received a call about two individuals shoplifting at the bookstore. Only one suspect was still present once officers arrived, and they proceeded to initiate an arrest. Farrow claimed that the suspect was non-compliant “to the extent where they had to use force.” He explained why an investigation done by a department not affiliated with the UC Davis police would be necessary.
“Any time there’s a use of force in this police department, we have to go back and thoroughly review and critique the actions of our officers,” Farrow said. “Use of force always looks bad — it just does, and this one has really gathered the attention of a lot of people, probably our entire community.”
As a result of the publicity surrounding this incident, Farrow asked the UC Davis Office of Compliance, which is part of the UC Davis Police Accountability Board (PAB), to conduct an investigation.
While the investigation proceeds, many activist groups on campus, as well as individual campus community members, signed onto a statement regarding the incident. The statement included a list of demands, which included “the public release of security footage from the Memorial Union bookstore” and “the creation of a crisis management team,” among others.
Farrow intends to promote transparency by choosing to have the Office of Compliance perform the investigation, rather than the UC Davis Police Department. The report drafted by the Office of Compliance, pending the results of the investigation, will be presented to PAB.
“I don’t always want the police to investigate the police,” Farrow said. “Sometimes it’s better to have it be an outside agency, and that’s what we’re going to do in this case.”
The Office of Compliance will make a recommendation based on the findings of its investigation, according to Farrow. He said that the investigators will look into video and audio of the incident, as well as interview witnesses and the officers involved.
Wendi Lilliedoll, the Office of Compliance director of investigations, said in an email that her office oversees reviews after members of the public submit complaints to PAB.
“In this case, we have not received a PAB complaint regarding the May 6 incident,” Lilliedoll said via email. “However, yesterday, Chief Farrow asked if our office would be willing to investigate the May 6 incident despite the lack of a complaint. I agreed to charge an independent investigation into the matter.”
Lilliedoll said she cannot release approximate deadlines for the completion of the investigation since it has just begun.
Farrow said he wasn’t familiar with the garment used to restrain the woman, but that the system is within UC Davis police policies. He acknowledged that its use generated controversy and that he wants its use to be part of the investigation.
Farrow further acknowledged the students’ concerns of police violence on campus.
“I think self-assessment and self-reflection is really important in policing,” Farrow said. “I think it’s really good that police departments are held accountable for their actions.”
Aaron Ochoa, the director of the UC Davis Stores, said the store has precautionary policies in place, such as immediately calling the police when an individual who has previously attempted to shoplift enters the store. The woman associated with this incident was a non-student who was previously caught attempting to shoplift, according to Ochoa.
When asked whether the UC Davis Bookstore had policies in place for employees who may have been exposed to police violence in the past, Ochoa said bookstore supervisors try to focus on open communication with the staff.
“We don’t have any policies in regards to ‘Hey, if something you witnessed on campus, regardless of what it is, has a triggering effect, how do you handle it?” Ochoa said. “We talked to all of our [new] hires, […] and we try to make sure there’s an open line of communication between their supervisors and the students themselves, so that we can kind of see how people are reacting to whatever the incident may be.”
Written by: Sabrina Habchi — email@example.com